Officials from nine Central American countries met last month to work out a plan for looser border regulations – a first step toward operating as a regional unit similar to the European Union. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic collaborated to change border policies to allow greater freedom in travel and trade among these countries. While still interested in other areas of regional integration, Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize have chosen not open their borders, partially because they are already dealing with an influx of illegal immigrants looking for work or, in Mexico’s case, passing through on their way to the United States.
Central America has sought regional integration since 1950, but wars and disputes have delayed this goal. Its likely implementation now worries U.S. officials, who believe relaxed borders could lead to an increase in drug smuggling and terrorist activities.
Central American officials say the new border plans won’t affect their fight against crime. Between El Salvador and Guatemala, for example, random police checkpoints have already been established. According to Wilfredo Rosales, El Salvador’s immigration director, “[For criminals] it was easy to cross before, but now it’s not. So I see it as much better.” (ABC News International, December 2004)
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